Good speech and language skills are crucial to the effective communication of each child and are a critical part of their overall development. Oral language skills enable a child to convey information to others in a meaningful way, support thinking and problem solving, help express feelings and develop and maintain friendships. Good communication skills are important skills for life.
Learning to listen, understand, use and enjoy language is also the first vital step in literacy and forms the basis for learning to read and write. A solid foundation in spoken language skills is important for academic and social competence.
What is the difference between speech and language?
Speech refers to the ability to produce the sounds that form words, while language refers to the words that a child understands and uses to communicate. Language includes spoken and written language, both of which a child needs to master.
Vocabulary – A powerful predictor of reading success
Oral vocabulary refers to words that we use in speaking, or comprehend in listening. Current research indicates that oral vocabulary skills are related to literacy success. Having a good understanding of different words and being able to use a range of different words in conversation is essential for communication and is a key component in reading for meaning. If a child knows the meaning of a word they are far more likely to be able to read it accurately and relate it to what they are reading. Comprehension is the goal of all reading activities.
How to encourage your child’s speech and language development
In Australia’s multicultural society, it is an asset to be bilingual. If your family speaks two languages, you can encourage your child’s language development in both languages.
- Talk to your child: One of the best ways to encourage a child’s speech, language and vocabulary development is simply to talk to your child. Talk about what is happening in your daily life and what interests them. Evidence suggests that children of families who chat with them frequently, may hear an average of 2100 words per hour. Over three years, this means that children might hear over 48 million words.
- Read and share books together: Shared book reading activities that involve language interaction are an exciting and fun way to develop a child’s vocabulary and language skills. It also helps develop their listening skills and awareness of print, e.g. point to the words as you read, as this helps them develop an awareness between the written and the spoken word. These are important concepts for developing literacy. Help your child learn that books and reading are fun so they develop a positive attitude to reading.
- Introduce nursery rhymes: Sing songs and nursery rhymes in the car, in the bath and at bedtime. If nursery rhymes are not part of your culture, you can borrow books, DVDs or CDs from your local library. Rhyming skills are important for literacy development as children develop an awareness of rhythm and the sound patterns of words that are important for reading and spelling.
Early intervention for children with speech and language delays between the ages of two and six years is very important as it will have the most impact on their communication skills, which are crucial for later literacy and academic achievement. Intervention before a child starts kindergarten will mean that the transition from preschool will be much more successful.
Marilyn Costello, B. App. Sc. Speech Pathology, Dip. T. (Infants and Primary), has worked as a Head of Department of Speech Pathology; as a teacher; and co-created the Ready to Read early literacy program. She has more than 30 years’ experience working with children in preschools, schools and community health throughout New Zealand, Tasmania and Sydney.